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Amber Aranui, Edward Halealoha Ayau, Neil Carter, Lui Ned David, Tsuguo Kuzuno, Yuji Shimizu, Major Sumner, Paul Tapsell, 7 May 2018, Long Journey Home: Repatriation symposium

MIKE PICKERING: Thank you. Do we have any questions or comments to any of our presenters or to each other from the floor? Anybody? All questions answered?

PAUL TAPSELL: Thanks Neil, your comments have triggered some of the complex discussions I've been having with the daughters of Donald Thompson and their difficulty in letting go of their ... I guess their way in which they see their father on the pedestal for supposedly having brought together one of the great aboriginal collections that sits in the museum. That said, the relationship that he had with different communities in different country over a period of about 40 years had its moments that arguably appear to not have been as pure as the daughters would like to think. But the daughters are very fixed on the idea that they still own the collection and that it's on loan, especially the images and that the collection that the University of Melbourne is now controlling and holding at the Museums Victoria, they also seem to think that they have final say in anything that happens with that.

We haven't got to that point of cleansing them yet and I hope that somewhere along the lines and this is conversation apparently it's been going on for 10 years now, that they might yet let go of that position of ownership and understand that their father had a relationship with every person that he collected from or took a photograph of and the 5800 images he has of all those old people up from [inaudible] and round Arnhem Land and around Cape York and also the Pintupi, they demonstrate a trust in the photographer and a relationship and I was attempting to try and influence the daughters to acknowledge that trust and to reciprocate it by making those images available to go back home and so that their grandchildren can identify them before it's too late. So yeah, work in process, trying to get this conciliation and the dignity of the collectors themselves restored. Ongoing work.

MIKE PICKERING: Anyone else?


MIKE PICKERING: Oh that will be right. Couldn't sit closer to it, could you?

AMBER ARANUI: I just wanted to follow on from what you said earlier about the family of collectors and restoring their dignity. I've had a couple of examples, one was in 2012 when we returned an ancestor from the Montreal Fine Arts Museum and the granddaughter of the man who donated this ancestor to the museum came and she was really upset and wanted to be part of the process and say sorry. And she kept saying that quite often, ‘I'm really sorry, I'm really sorry’. And I said to her, ‘It's okay, it's not your fault. You didn't do it but thank you for wanting to be involved into the righting the wrong’.

So she was really ... and I've been in touched since so we have an ongoing relationship and she's got a man who she has hired to try and find out where this ancestor is from, cause it's a Toi Moko so we don't really have much information about Toi Moko in general 'cause they were collected at a time where there were curiosity rather than scientific specimen. But as part of her reconciliation with this whole process, she wants to try and find out where this ancestor is from so that we can take him back to his people.

For her, it was a really emotional experience and she was sincerely, sincerely sorry about that. I found that it is quite a healing process if we can have families of these collectors involved in this process and the other example that I had was recently we repatriated from the Übersee Museum in Bremen and one of the main collectors there was a man called Henry Suter and he collected quite a number of remains throughout New Zealand and they ended up in museums all around the world but his granddaughter also was part of that reconciliation. So when those ancestors came back to New Zealand and we had a ceremony for them back at Te Papa on our marae, she was one of the people that actually carried those ancestors back onto the marae and back to their people and again for her it was extremely emotional and she did a public apology saying sorry about the things that her grandfather had done.

And a good thing also about her is that in terms of the research side of thing, she has all his journals, which are all written in German but she's had a lot of it translated, particularly around him collecting human remains. And so, though I have to tread carefully with her, she is quite open to sharing the information and part of that has helped us to identify where those ancestors were from, specifically so that they can go home and we hope that they will go home this year. But without her willingness to help and cooperation, those ancestors would have remained unprovenanced and remain in the museum. But granted she only give me a page of the diary, which you know ... but that's with information was that's great but I know that in the future, I'm gonna have to go back to her again and ask her to have a look for specific dates but part of her restoring ... I guess her dignity and that of the actions that her grandfather did, she's quite willing and open to help. So ... some good stories.

MIKE PICKERING: So I think the summaries that dignity can be a two way process. It can benefit anyone. Yes, thank you.

MAJOR SUMNER: Over the past ... I supposed ... twelve months two years, there's been a few people contacting me about remains that they have got in their homes and they want to know what to do with them. I've spoken to a number of people about it and this ... Well, the only thing that you can do is call the police and get the police to get involved because the main reason because there had been ... I don't know whether you see the news in around Adelaide all the time, there's a lot of murders go on over there and sometimes some people say, well, they maybe trying to pass them off as aboriginal remains but it's someone they murdered.

There was two young girls accepted a ride with a man that was gonna take them from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Coorong, they have a camp and a weekend in the bush. He finished up taking them out there and he nearly got away with, he nearly killed them. He bashed one with a hammer and I was down there, at the Coorong when this happened. We were at Salt Creek and I see all the helicopters coming in and I'm doing a bit of work down there but all that about the remains, what he was doing with the girls, he was taking everything off of them ... the jewellery, everything, earring, studs, whatever they had on them ... Taking their clothes and then ... And I don't think it's be the first time he done this because he had it too well planned.

So in our community, we've been warned not to put ... If we see a fresh ... When the wind blows the sand off of a burial site, not to just leave it there. And ask to get the police to come in, they'll go there and they will bring someone from forensic scientist in there and have a look and make sure that they're aboriginal remains, not someone who has been put there amongst the burial site in our area.

That's one of the things I want to talk about and the other one is remains grave goods that's been taken from the graves, that's been in some people's homes now, people have been contacting me about they've got stolen axes in their homes, have been taken them from the burial sites. One woman she said ... she was in her 70s and she called me, so I went down there to look at the axes and I said, ‘Well, where did you get these from?’ She said, ‘I'm not sure, but just hold on, I'll call my father’. And I looked at her, ‘Oh yeah’. Her father was still alive, he was the one who took them. He was in the 90s and they come from up around Innisfail, so all these things to our part of getting community back on track, all the different grinding stones, all the different grave goods and things that was a part of someone's life that was put in the grave with them. They were taken. They're all sitting over in museums, they're sitting in people's homes.

The other thing is about with the children, we've lived in two worlds. We've lived in our world but we also have to live in this world too. There's about 30 young people that I've got in the dance group, from high school students to kindergarten kids, plus their parents so it's building that strength up in them through culture. I talk about repatriation, I talk about the work that I do. Lot of the young people are very interested because they want to see the remains back. When we have a burial, reburial, they come with me. They learn about what I'm doing. They're very interested when I told them I was coming across see some of the high school kids, and they would love to come here and sat down and listen to people talk because that's their interest. They want to know about what happened to our people, they were taken away. Their burial sites dug up.

So all this stuff that I listen to today is very interesting, and we can learn from each other, we can learn from people from all around the world, that's all the indigenous people, thank you.

MIKE PICKERING: And I think that's a perfect note on which to close today's presenting. I'd like you to join and thanking our presenters today and the organisers and our translators and our multimedia ninja, up in the back room for helping everything go so well. So again, thank you all and congratulations to you all. Thank you.

Anybody who wants to continue the conversation, we have some tables booked up at University House in the bar from five o'clock onwards, so we'll see all you there.

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Date published: 14 November 2019

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